"Don't use seven words when four will do. Don't shift your weight, look always at your mark but don't stare, be specific but not memorable, be funny but don't make him laugh. He's got to like you then forget you the moment you've left his side. And no matter what you do, for the love of God don't, under any circumstances—"
Basically, this trope is when a character is described as being "utterly unmemorable
." They have a boring face, boring eyes, boring hair, they're not too tall or too short, they're not too fat or too thin, and their voice is often a monotone (but not so creepy that it's memorable
). In short, the only reason they're interesting at all is because of how uninteresting they appear.
However, beneath that yawn-worthy exterior lurks something very interesting indeed. The Nondescript is often a spy, or Con Man
, or criminal, whose looks make it easy for him to get away with what he's doing because people either can't remember what he looks like or can't describe him well when they do
. Other times, The Nondescript is just a Played for Laughs
attribute of a character.
Certain characters take this to superpower levels: they aren't merely average looking, they are so nondescript that even the narrator seems unable to pin down any of their features - or, in fact, to tell us anything about them. One gets the impression that these characters are deliberately doing something
to make themselves invisible in plain sight.
Usually occurs only in literature, because unmemorable and nondescript actors are hard to find and not particularly rewarding to film. When it does appear in a visual medium, the nondescriptness will often be an Informed Ability
for just that reason.
This can be used to help the reader/viewer/player to imagine the character as themselves, resulting in a Featureless Protagonist
. When it's aided by magic or scientific Phlebotinum
it usually involves a Perception Filter
. Related to He Who Must Not Be Seen
. Compare The Spook
, Suspect Is Hatless
, Beneath Suspicion
. Occasionally The Men in Black
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Anime & Manga
- Ishimaru from Eyeshield 21 is frequently described as incredibly plain, often going unnoticed by teammates and even opposing players while on the field. The Devil Bats sometimes use this to their advantage by including him in crucial plays.
- This trope is played with such as by having Ishimaru run in the invisible man costume at the school athletics festival or by making his box in the manga incredibly small.
- This trope is a trait carried by several of the Black Rose Duelists of Revolutionary Girl Utena; with Kozue, Wakaba, and Keiko being the most affected. Kozue was this when she was younger due to being overshadowed by her twin brother Miki's genius piano skills, whereas she was both mediocre in skill and an anxious performer. Wakaba is a heartbreaking case of I Just Want to Be Special - the only way she can feel good is by helping others because she feels that she doesn't stand out in any other way. And Keiko is part of a Girl Posse that serves Nanami; when she breaks away from them briefly for a chance meeting with local casanova and crush Touga (who is also Nanami's older brother), both Nanami and the two other girls ostracize her severely. After her duel with Utena, it comes to a head when we find out that Utena doesn't know Keiko's name.
- There's also Wakaba's childhood friend Tatsuya, a Dogged Nice Guy to such proportions that Wakaba doesn't even notice his feelings. To make matters worse, Tatsuya's nickname is onion prince (referring to something as an onion, in Japan, means that it's shoddy or third-rate), and despite having his unrequited feelings and inferiority cause him emotional turmoil, Mikage deems him sound enough to be rejected from the Black Rose duels.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex:
- Gouda started out as one of these, a staid bureaucrat who was unnoticed by his co-workers, and when the protagonists look into his past, they find out that his colleagues only remember him for being totally unmemorable. This all changed one day when his face was badly disfigured in an accident, an event which he believes changed his "ghost" (his soul) and transformed him into a Machiavellian schemer.
- Major Kusanagi herself, whose body is apparently designed to resemble a generic model of cyborg or android.
- Shinpachi from Gintama is described as this. During a "how to draw Shinpachi" segment, Gin instructs viewers to imagine the most boring and uninteresting face you can, then draw it. Tada! You've drawn Shinpachi! Also, at one point, Shinpachi is training to be a Highly-Visible Ninja, and manages to completely escape the notice of everyone in a crowded bookstore because, apparently, he is just that plain and unnoticeable. Even though he was he was wearing a itycow costume at the time.
- Momoko from the Mahjong anime Saki takes this to supernatural level. When you're in a game where everyone is watching everyone else for a chance of quick victory, it's a tremendous advantage.
- What's-her-name-againnote from Yuru-Yuri, played for Comedic Sociopathy-gold.
- The main character of Kuroko no Basuke has this attribute and weaponizes it to relay passes while playing basketball.
- Kagerou Usui of Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is this dialed up to 11. He fades into the background to the point of being at risk of getting run over by cars on the street. His name even derives from a Japanese phrase for "overshadowed". He is very annoyed at his lack of presence, but it also has advantages for him since he's a Covert Pervert.
- Natsumi in Mahou Sensei Negima!, which naturally causes her a bit of an identity crisis when she realizes that while everyone else she knows is interesting and have made valuable contributions to the group, she's just "that one girl who's there". It doesn't help that when she finally makes a Pactio, it gives her a magic artifact that basically invokes this trope, functioning as an Invisibility Cloak.
- Zandar, Zartan's brother from the G.I. Joe comics was this kind of guy. He is so unnoticeable that in one instance, Zandar was literally sat upon, as it was thought the chair was empty. Admittedly, he is a master of camouflage and can easily hide in plain sight. So, it's like sitting on a chameleon, it's not really your fault for not noticing him when he's trying not to be noticed.
- During Mark Millar's Spider-Man run, Vulture comes to this conclusion after seeing Peter Parker's face for the first time. He angrily throws the youth to his supposed death, exclaiming that all these years he had thought Spider-Man must be someone famous, only to find out he was just a "nobody" that might as well be working at a gas station.
- The DCU:
- There's John Doe, the Generic Man, who takes this to the logical extreme (that other extreme examples somehow manage to avoid) by being so generic and drab in appearance that he stands out spectacularly. He's literally featureless, except for a label on his chest that says "(person)". He can, by touching them, make other objects as undefined as he is.
- And then there's Agent ! from Doom Patrol, who dresses and acts with the intention to shock, but nobody notices him, and his power is, explicitly, the ability to go unnoticed. He's a subversion in the fact that he has many very distinguishing features; for one, his chest is a birdcage with a toy biplane inside of it. (If you guessed this character was created by Grant Morrison, give yourself a gold star.)
- The title character of the indie comic Mister Blank, a totally ordinary office-worker turned Badass Normal fighting an Ancient Conspiracy. He's so normal-looking the artist just drew the minimal facial features of eyes and a mouth.
- Superman is, at least during the Silver Age of comics. There were SO many people that just happened to look like him, from his father to a random thug, that he could often take a day off by having someone else replace him in either of his identities. Even in modern stories, while Superman is a well-known icon, Clark Kent is about average height, with a generic haircut and no real identifying marks, making him fairly nondescript—which helps a lot with Clark Kenting.
- One of Max Allan Collins's last storylines in Dick Tracy before leaving the title in the 80's involved a criminal of this type. His face is never shown on-panel, and — highly unusually for a Dick Tracy story — he successfully escapes at the end, even though his evil plan was thwarted. When Tracy is asked for a description of the guy so the police can search, he has no choice but to shrug and admit he can't remember what he looked like.
- Aljabra Gihom in Gold Digger has a variation of this. She's noticeable enough when she's awake, but she has a habit of falling asleep while sitting in odd places, and being so still and unobtrusive that people casually mistake her for furniture. She's quite used to having people set coffee cups on her head or start to sit down on her.
- One Harry Potter For Want of a Nail and Alternate Universe fanfic titled The Art of Hidden Personas has the main character, Hadrian Walker, basically Harry born and grown under different circumstances, assumes such a disguise. It is made possible via copious use of advanced glamours and also unremarkable behavior. When attention is brought upon him most of the Hogwarts staff have trouble putting a face to his name and even Chessmaster Dumbledore is affected.
- Forward is a Firefly fanfic with multiple types of psychics, including one known as "Inducers." Inducers can manipulate emotions in others, including apathy and interest, and one uses this to remain completely unnoticable. She can go as far a making herself and a mind-controlled River walk right past the rest of the crew while they're distracted by an injured Mal without anyone noticing.
- Ardav, one of the Dalns gods in With Strings Attached, is magically nondescript to the point where no one can remember what the sexless god looks like; thinking of it brings up a blank humanoid mannequin.
- The phantom interviewer in Oriana The Unauthorized Accounts, a Felix the Cat: The Movie fanfic, appears to have this ability.
- Kohaku Namikaze nee Zoishin of A Growing Affection is this. She was passed over for promotion twice because while everyone remembered the fights she was in, no-one remembered that she was one of the participant. And her parents left her behind on family vacation because they did not realize she was not there.
- Yuki and Kuyou in Kyon Big Damn Hero have the ability to do this on a temporary basis. People are aware enough of them not to walk into them, but do not recognize them and are not aware of what they are doing.
- The Naruto fanfiction Training for the Job introduces Munamoto Sousou, a rather shy and quiet ninja academy student. Ino, who is assigned to evaluate Sousou's espionage talents shortly before graduation, describes her as, "So unassuming that she makes people overlook her, making her ideal for civilian infiltration."
Films — Animated
- Emmet of The LEGO Movie, who has the face of a generic LEGO minifig. He's so nondescript that the villain's forces have a hard time finding him at first because he looks like everyone else. Also deconstructed because this means that no one that he interacts with on a daily basis even knows what's so special about him.
Films — Live-Action
- In Can't Hardly Wait, when Amanda is trying to find out who Preston is (though she may have also asked the wrong person):
Stoner Guy: Preston? I dunno, his hair's kinda, I dunno, brown?
Matt, Watermelon Guy: No, it's not really brown. Oh, he's tall.
Stoner Guy: Yeah, he's kinda kinda tall. Sorta tall. And he's like always wearing like t-shirts.
Amanda Becket: So, he's sort of tall?
Stoner Guy: Kind of.
Amanda Becket: With... hair?
Stoner Guy: Yeah.
Amanda Becket: And he wears t-shirts sometimes?
Stoner Guy: Yeah.
- Jean-Baptiste Grenouille from Perfume possesses a superhuman sense of smell and eventually becomes a mass murderer. However, he has no scent of his own, causing people to instinctively treat him as a cipher beneath their notice. Even a watchdog ignores him. This is part of his motivation to create the perfect scent.
- The assassin Vincent in Collateral consciously invokes this trope, making himself nondescript by coupling his gray hair with clothing entirely of gray. Supposedly, as training, the director even had Tom Cruise deliver a package in a public place with nobody recognizing him.
- There's a creepy, possibly alien guy in the horror movie The Forgotten with rather short brown hair, brown eyes, a blank, ordinary face... and he's Immune to Bullets.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: How Luna Lovegood describes Harry Potter after fixing his broken nose: "Exceptionally ordinary."
- In one episode of The Persuaders!, an assassin is set on the heroes' tail. He is just an aging, thin, unattractive man who is normally a repairman when he's not taking jobs like this. He attributes his success to the fact that he is always The Everyman who no-one ever notices or suspects.
- Firefly has this with Lawrence Dobson who looks to be nothing special, and loses anything interesting about him whatsoever when you see Simon wearing the most villainous getup you can imagine.
- The Mayor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is just an average smiling politician, right? Wrong.
- The episode 'Out of Sight' had a girl, Marcy Ross, who was so nondescript that no one noticed her. She was never called on in class or spoken to by her peers. Eventually, a combination of quantum mechanics and the fact that the school is built over a Hellmouth turned her invisible. When her existance is revealed, she is implied to have been living in the school air vents for months without being reported missing. Willow and Xander don't know who she is, despite having had three classes with her the previous year. Marcy's goal is revenge on those who ignored her, through revenge and mutilation. At the end of the episode, she is taken away by The Men in Black to a classroom of likewise invisible people, to be trained in espionage and assassination.
Buffy: (showing a yearbook she found in the vents) Have a nice summer, have a nice summer ... every signature.
Giles: Once again, I stand on the edge of the generation gap -
Buffy: "Have a nice summer" is what you write when you have absolutely nothing else to say.
Willow: It's the social kiss of death.
- Alex, Paul and Jess of The Real Hustle don't usually use disguises except for fake names, but are never recognised by their marks. Then again, the magic of editing means it probably happens, but we just never see it ("Hey, aren't you that guy off TV?")
- On The Drew Carey Show, Lewis and Oswald once boasted to Drew that their greatest edge in trying to meet women was being completely forgettable, thus any woman who turns them down would always give them a second chance a few years later by means of having forgotten them already. They go on to try to pick up a pair of girls who turn them down immediately, but they merely smirk and say "See you in ten years!"
- The unsub in one Criminal Minds episode started killing because he was one of these and was angry that no one noticed him.
- Burn Notice: An assassin sent to kill Michael Westen certainly qualifies. He's shortish, chubby, with thinning brown hair and glasses. He's just another bureaucrat sent to review Michael's file. Until he asks for a drink and whips out a garrote. Spies show contempt for bureaucrats, meaning they're the perfect cover.
- Arrested Development: Ann Veal, George Michael's girlfriend. She is intentionally written without much personality for comedy and is played by a different actress later in the series. People often wonder what George Michael sees in her ("Is she funny or something?"). Any discussion of her leads to someone responding, "Her?" However, this is downplayed later in the series when she becomes very religious.
- Psych: Discussed when Henry describes a woman he was set up with as nondescript and Shawn remarks that he's only heard someone say that when discussing a crime scene.
- In the Champions adventure "Red Doom", the character Disinformer has this quality, which is why he's one of the KGB's top spies.
- The advantage "Bland" makes you this in the Legend of the Five Rings tabletop game 3rd edition. Too bad it also makes you less likely to be recognised when glory is to be had for great deeds.
- One of the Dungeons & Dragons splatbooks describe a nondescript box you can hide items in. It's not invisible, but anyone looking for it must pass a search check or they will ignore it. "It's just another plain box."
- Unknown Armies offers this as a skill.
- Likewise, there is a magical ability called "Incognito" in Deadlands that does nothing to alter its user's appearance, but instead makes him or her really, really, supernaturally... uninteresting. No surprise that it's under the purview of the Hucksters, arcane practitioners often described as "shifty".
- Having a nondescript appearance is a perk in GURPS that causes people to just naturally assume you're not involved in things.
- This is the focus of both a Merit (Occultation) and a Legacy (The Blank Badges) in Mage: The Awakening.
- Likewise, "Arcane" in Mage: The Ascension. The Ahl-i-Batin cranked it up to ten (not eleven—at eleven the universe forgets you exist). An entertaining variant because it can't be turned off, making it a two-edged sword.
- Mind sphere invisibility also works like this. If an observer doesn't overcome the power rating of the spell, they literally cannot find you noteworthy enough to record or remember. Higher-level mind mages can also do this after-the-fact by memory manipulation.
- The "Subtle Ones" Legacy from Awakening use this to their advantage. They can blend seamlessly into any group while influencing their thoughts and emotions. They're based on the Ahl-i-Batin, to boot.
- Mage really loves this one: fate magic and space magic can also be used to prevent others from forming any kind of social or mental connection with a character.
- Similarly, the Vampire: The Masquerade (and Vampire: The Requiem) power of "Obfuscate".
- This is a power you can inflict on others in Geist: The Sin-Eaters.
- A magic item described in a base World of Darkness Splat Book called Reliquary also does this
- The Sidereal Exalted may be nondescript or attention-grabbing, as their individual natures dictate, but the Arcane Fate ensures that any non-Sidereal who meets them will find them very hard to remember...even more so when all traces of their existence, from footprints to pictures to bureaucratic records, get lost, are accidentally destroyed or defaced, or mysteriously vanish. Unfortunately for their social lives, they can't turn it off.
- Dark Heresy has the talent "Unremarkable", usually taken as a starting ability. Mind you, in this game you can also take chemical castration, nanite blood, and replacing half your brain with a computer as talents.
- In Scion, this is one of the weaker powers of the Darkness purview.
- In Warhammer, Wizards that study the grey wind of magic, the Lore of Shadow, become more nondescript and forgettable as they grow in ability.
- Shadowrun has nondescript as a positive background during character creation. It means that, in a world where ambient cameras can keep track of you all the time, your appearance is so bog-standard for your age, sex and metatype that even face-recognising A.Is have problems distinguishing you from millions of other Jon/Jane Does.
- Hitman: Agent 47 was deliberately engineered to be multiracial so he could fit in anywhere without drawing attention. Then they tattooed a barcode on the back of his shaved head. Not to mention that he doesn't look nondescript at all, and that he doesn't even look multiracial at all anyway. And then topped it off with a $3000 suit and custom handguns. It does seem to work, though; he can easily pass for a Chinese gang member six inches shorter than him.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, Hk-47 gives a short lecture about assassination. He mentions how being a droid makes his job easy since most people tend to treat droids like furniture.
- The Stone Mask in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has the ability to make the wearer to appear as unnoticeable as a stone. This has a drawback: you get it by using the Lens of Truth to find a soldier who put it on, then suffered an injury. He laid there, hurt and forgotten, for days until you found him.
- Your U.L. Paper contact in Grand Theft Auto IV. "To me? Who am I? There's a hundred guys in this building alone who fit my description. Middle aged men, paunchy, glasses... you bring them here? What's this? Empty office, leased to a man who died in the last days of Vietnam... Call me up. My number never existed." — also goes for The Men in Black.
- To the Big Bad in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, everyone is like this due to his prosopagnosia. This allows Zero to trick him into killing one of his former accomplices.
- Touhou has Koishi, who's a metaphysical version of this. By closing her mind off she's closed others' mind to her, meaning that she's hard to notice and harder to remember, despite being a strange girl with an eye/heart/thing hanging around her chest.
- Kellam from Fire Emblem Awakening. Despite being one of the tallest characters in the game and wearing a gigantic suit of armor, he's virtually invisible to everyone, including his own teammates. It also doesn't help that his design is very plain compared to the other characters.
- Billy from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Even though he's played by Neil Patrick Harris, he does manage to pull off Clark Kenting remarkably well, and goes unnoticed following Captain Hammer and Penny around on their dates.
- Pirate Lady Corazon Rivadeneira from Open Blue is so nondescript that even the paintings she modeled for can't agree on how she looks like. It's implied to be a supernatural power.
- SCP Foundation: Huh? SCP-055? That number isn't in use, is it?
- Jolie La Belle from Star Harbor Nights has "indescribable beauty" as a superpower, with an emphasis on the "indescribable" part.
- Welcome to Night Vale features The Man In The Tan Jacket, who is is said to be completely unmemorable. Witnesses can't describe him outside of noting that he wears a tan jacket and carries a briefcase full of flies.
- Also, our narrator Cecil (and his counter-part Kevin) who described each other as being neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin, having various human features like a nose and a mouth, but with odd smiles.
- The creators have gone on record as saying that Cecil will remain this way, so that he can look however fans want him to. Quite a number of fan artists have settled on the idea of a dark-skinned man with messy hair and a literal third eye.
- Nice Guy from Worm had this as a superpower. Considering he's an ex-ex-member of the Slaughterhouse Nine, when we finally see him in action, it's...not pleasant.
- Samson the gerbil of Camp Lazlo, a case of Ascended Extra that isn't quite that. He once snuck into a guarded vault of candy just by waltzing in. When the owner of it found him, he actively stepped over Samson and blamed a fly for it.
- Rob from The Amazing World of Gumball is this in "The Pony", with his entire existence being treated as a Noodle Incident, with Gumball and Darwin remembering him as much as the audience does. In "The Void", this is deconstructed, as he is revealed to have been thought of as a mistake by the Void and sucked in, being left unnoticed, even after trying to get saved by visitors there. "The Nobody" also deconstructs this, as it is revealed he has escaped and is still alive, but just glitched up and trying to claim and identity that has not already been taken.
- To some Aspies and those with face-blindness, most people are this.
- Most spies will probably use this to their advantage.
- Dan freaking Cooper (whose alias was most certainly not D.B.). It's possible that he didn't survive landing, but looking at his composite sketch◊ it seems much more likely that they didn't catch him because he could be any living (and caucasian, male, and adult) human being.
- The President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy (not, technically, the "President of Europe" as is often incorrectly assumed) approaches the ideal. The Telegraph newspaper wrote after his appointment to the position in 2009 that "those who have met him [...] and can still recall the experience describe him as 'modest', 'introverted' and 'self-effacing'". Nigel Farage accused him of having the "charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk". Mr. Van Rompuy also comes from Belgium, which is about as nondescript as countries get.
- One of the things that allowed Ted Bundy to go on killing for so long was the fact he was so ordinary looking; he was pretty much a natural master of disguise. He was also helped by the fact that he could look reasonably handsome (though not memorably so), which helped him to persuade his female victims to get into vulnerable situations.
- Ditto with Andrew Cunanan—5'10, 150 lbs., brown hair, brown eyes. How many guys look like that?
- Former Seattle Mariners catcher Dan Wilson fits this well enough that many people, after meeting him have stated that they would never recognize him if they saw him walking down the street. This includes someone who had looked up to him as a hero for most of her life!
- Most DJs, no matter how much they produce Awesome Music, generally seem to be nondescript white guys dressed in generic clothing wearing sunglasses and hats. DJ Shadow, James Lavelle, 3D and RJD 2 all look really quite similar. It's unlikely that any DJ out there gets recognised in the street. This is seemingly part of the reason artists like Daft Punk are so noticeable.
- Then again, you might not notice Daft Punk if you were to ever see them in person, since they make it a point to never be seen in public without their iconic face-concealing robot helmets.
- Gerald Ford had very few distinguishing features that political cartoonists of the time couldn't figure out how to caricature him properly.
- Similarly, Ali Larter was described this way. While she was on Heroes, a series of comic-book themed◊ covers were commissioned for TV Guide. The artist for the cover she was on, Phil Jimenez, described her as torturous for an artist, saying "she’s a really beautiful woman without a specific defining feature to grab on to," making it hard to make the drawing instantly recognizable as the actress.
- Surprisingly, being too beautiful can result in this trope. Human facial beauty is often judged by how closely a face matches a person's internal "blueprint" of what a human face looks like. As that blueprint is created from a mental average of every face the person has ever seen, the more you look like that blueprint, the more average you are, despite the fact that you are more attractive for your averageness.
- Early in Vladimir Putin's career his appearance was critiqued as nondescript and unmemorable.
- During the time he was on the run, a common joke in Boston was that they would never find James "Whitey" Bulger even if he had stayed right in Boston because he looks just like every other elderly Irish-American guy in the city. When they came up with an age advanced new photo of him◊ in 2004 it was really apparent, and even his mugshot◊ when finally caught is still pretty unremarkable. The most memorable thing about him was always said to be his piercing eyes but only when he intended them to be that way, and while in hiding he was known to frequently wear sunglasses in public, which didn't raise any eyebrows since it was California. On at least one occasion he also visited a local bar frequented by Boston transplants, and while a few people claimed after he was caught that they did notice a resemblance none of them believed someone as wanted as Whitey Bulger would actually dare to come out in public like that.
- Sports writer Jack McCallum, in his book on the Dream Team, pointed out that the only member of the team who could go outside in Barcelona without getting mobbed by the public was John Stockton, because he was a 6'1" white guy with dark hair (hardly uncommon in the city). The other two white guys on the team were blonde and at least six-eight, and all the black men were at least six-six.